An elderly man runs past flaming vehicles outside Israel's embassy in Cairo Sept. 9, 2011. (AP)As President Barack Obama prepares to head to the UN General Assembly opening session in New York next week, two of his major foreign policy goals appear to be on a collision course. In the midst of this year's Arab Spring uprisings, the Obama administration has sought to position the United States as a champion for Arab peoples' aspirations for greater democracy and freedom. At the same time, though, the United States has been fully committed to block one key objective supported by most Arab pro-democracy activists: the petition from Palestinian leaders to achieve enhanced international recognition at the United Nations next week.
Analysts warn that the looming showdown could further diminish the United States' credibility and leverage in the Middle East--and at the very moment that Israel, Washington's closest regional ally, is becoming even more dependent on U.S. diplomatic protection. And in case administration officials needed reminding of the delicate nature of this balancing act, they got a vivid refresher course this past weekend, when Obama and his top aides had to intervene with Egypt's military rulers to help get Israel's ambassador to Cairo and embassy staff evacuated as Egyptian crowds attacked the building. (The assault on Israel's Egypt embassy came just days after another historic Israeli ally in the region, Turkey, expelled Israel's envoy, citing anger over that country's refusal to apologize for the killing of nine Turks in the 2010 Gaza flotilla episode.)
"I think President Obama is torn," veteran American Middle East peace negotiator Aaron David Miller told The Envoy Monday. He doesn't "want to be the guy who has to oppose a Palestinian state, which is something he is very much in support of."
But if U.S. representatives are forced to veto a Palestinian state resolution at the UN Security Council next week--as they vowed to do if the measure comes before that body--"you have to wonder how much lower American credibility can get," Miller said.
Susan Rice, Obama's envoy to the United Nations, made it clear to reporters Monday that Washington is using all the diplomatic incentives and threats it can to try to dissuade Palestinians from going through with their UN plans. (You can see some of her comments on the issue in the YouTube video below.) But as Rice acknowledged at a breakfast with journalists hosted by the Christian Science Monitor Monday, the Palestinian measure is likely to win overwhelming support at the UN General Assembly--despite U.S. opposition.
"One thing I hope the Palestinian leadership is considering is the day after," Rice warned. "What will happen when whatever show we have in the United Nations is done? What will change in the real world for the Palestinian people? The answer is nothing--sadly. Expectations will have been raised very high. But the economy will still be the economy, the situation on ground will remain the situation on the ground. The [Palestinian people] will not have any more sovereignty, freedom or autonomy than they feel today."Read More »from Obama faces referendum on his Mideast diplomacy